News Americas, BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Mon. Oct. 8, 2012: Saint Christopher Island, or St. Kitts as it is more commonly known, is playing host to Caribbean tourism ministers, commissioners, executives and the media tomorrow, October 10th, as the annual State Of The Industry Conference from the Caribbean Tourism Organization, gets officially underway.
But what exactly is the state of the industry in an island whose economy has shifted completely away from the historical sugar cane production to tourism?
At the picturesque and tranquil Ottley’s Plantation Inn, where the rain forest is their back yard and the sea views are spectacular from the front of the property, pre-bookings are already coming in.
Karen Keusch, one of the four owners of this high end property, where rates can run from $195 to over $400 per night, speaks openly about the uptick in bookings as the season gets ready to move from summer to winter.
The signs are good for many small property owners like Keusch, since it means the economic recession that triggered a global slowdown, may be finally over.
Keusch, a former New Jersey resident, has spent the summer redecorating and getting ready for the peak season. She and her family now hope to earn a return on her investment that will also allow them to keep their local staff employed.
At the scenic and contemporary decorated Christophe Harbour, expansion continues apace for the marina and more villas. Spencer Nash says there is definitely more interest in their tourism products and the calls are coming.
“It could always be better but we have no complaints about 2012 and 2013 is shaping up to be even better,” added Chief Operating Officer, Bill Lee.
Over in Nevis, Steve Tyson at Nisbet Planation shares the same positive news.
“We have seen a steady growth from last year,” Tyson told NAN during a visit to the historic planation type high end hotel on Monday.
Nevis’ sales and marketing director, Devon Liburd, also shares the optimism of many that the island’s tourism product is seeing an emergence.
So too is Llewllyn Caines, owner of the Sunshine Bar on the strip in Nevis.
“It’s coming back,” said Caines. “We have started to see more people. I think we will have a good season this year.”
The importance and dependence of the island’s residents of the tourism product is hard to miss.
Leandra Hull is a waiter at Ottley’s. She returned from England eight years ago and has been working at the high end Inn for the past two years. She has a daughter and depends on the job at Ottley’s to provide for them both.
Sylvester Phipps, owner and managing director of the famous Shiggidy Shack, continues to draw visitors, despite the slow season, competing with Buddies and Cathy’s among others for the almighty tourist dollar.
So too is the taxi driver who drops off passengers from the Marriott Hotel at the Shack for US$8 and the hairstylist on the beach who charges a cool US$20 for a hair twist.
To people like Hull, Mr. X and the many more who serve as bar keepers, gardeners, cooks, cleaners and waitresses, the trickle down economic impact of the sector is most important. Tourism means jobs and business. Without it, the country’s unemployment and poverty rates could spike, which would translate to bad news for the Denzil Douglas administration.
The island’s minister of tourism knows this. Minister Richard ‘Ricky’ Skerritt, who will hand over the reins of Chairman of the CTO on Wednesday, insists his country and the Caribbean is slowly climbing out of the economic recession of 2008.
The minister told NAN exclusively that the overall arrivals for this year so far, from North America, are looking better than last year and definitely has grown over 2010. But the outgoing chairman insists that the Caribbean has to continue to strengthen its brand in the marketplace.
“We feel a strong CTO is our region’s best way forward,” said Skerritt. “Given the urgent challenges we are facing in the market place, we strengthened our partnership with the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), and re-energized our joint-venture Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC), to specifically handle our marketing and business development needs. As a first step in developing a
stronger marketing program, we are completely re-designing the CaribbeanTravel.com website to be more visually pleasing and user-friendly, with additional capabilities to drive increased online bookings to our region. The future development of CTDC will be one of the most critical challenges facing CTO and CHTA in the short term going forward. Airplanes, cruise ships and hotels cannot fill themselves. It is our local and regional tourism stakeholders who together must squarely shoulder the responsibility for attracting visitors.
“Too many of our enterprises still operate as if we just need to open our doors and consumers will show up. Our market research – and actual experience – has shown that collaborative public and private sector marketing action, on behalf of the Caribbean brand, is our best hope for growing the Caribbean’s share of the global travel market.”